For many years Ubuntu has had a comprehensive governance structure. At the top of the tree are the Community Council (community policy) and the Technical Board (technical policy).
Below those boards are sub-councils such as the IRC, Forum, and LoCo councils, and developer assessment boards.
The vast majority of these boards are populated by predominantly non-Canonical folks. I think this is a true testament to the openness and accessibility of governance in Ubuntu. There is no “Canonical needs to have people on half the board” shenanigans…if you are a good leader in the Ubuntu community, you could be on these boards if you work hard.
So, no-one is denying the openness of these boards, and I don’t question the intentions or focus of the people who join and operate them. They are good people who act in the best interests of Ubuntu.
What I do question is the purpose and effectiveness of these boards.
Let me explain.
From my experience, the charter and role of these boards has remained largely unchanged. The Community Council, for example, is largely doing much of the same work it did back in 2006, albeit with some responsibility delegated elsewhere.
Over the years though Ubuntu has changed, not just in terms of the product, but also the community. Ubuntu is no longer just platform contributors, but there are app and charm developers, a delicate balance between Canonical and community strategic direction, and a different market and world in which we operate.
Ubuntu governance has, as a general rule, been fairly reactive. In other words, items are added to a governance meeting by members of the community and the boards sit, review the topic, discuss it, and in some cases vote. In this regard I consider this method of governance not really leadership, but instead idea, policy, and conflict arbitration.
What saddens me is that when I see some of these meetings, much of the discussion seems to focus on paperwork and administrivia, and many of the same topics pop up over and over again. With no offense meant at the members of these boards, these meetings are neither inspirational and rarely challenge the status quo of the community. In fact, from my experience, challenging the status quo with some of these boards has invariably been met with reluctance to explore, experiment, and try new ideas, and to instead continue to enforce and protect existing procedures. Sadly, the result of this is more bureaucracy than I feel comfortable with.
Ubuntu is at a critical point in it’s history. Just look at the opportunity: we have a convergent platform that will run across phones, tablets, desktops and elsewhere, with a powerful SDK, secure application isolation, and an incredible developer community forming. We have a stunning cloud orchestration platform that spans all the major clouds, making the ability to spin up large or small scale services a cinch. In every part of this the code is open and accessible, with a strong focus on quality.
This is fucking awesome.
The opportunity is stunning, not just for Ubuntu but also for technology freedom.
Just think of how many millions of people can be empowered with this work. Kids can educate themselves, businesses can prosper, communities can form, all on a strong, accessible base of open technology.
Ubuntu is innovating on multiple fronts, and we have one of the greatest communities in the world at the core. The passion and motivation in the community is there, but it is untapped.
Our inspirational leader has typically been Mark Shuttleworth, but he is busy flying around the world working hard to move the needle forward. He doesn’t always have the time to inspire our community on a regular basis, and it is sorely missing.
As such, we need to look to our leadership…the Community Council, the Technical Board, and the sub-councils for inspiration and leadership.
I believe we need to transform and empower these governance boards to be inspirational vessels that our wider community look to for guidance and leadership, not for paper-shuffling and administrivia.
We need these boards to not be reactive but to be proactive…to constantly observe the landscape of the Ubuntu community…the opportunities and the challenges, and to proactively capitalize on protecting the community from risk while opening up opportunity to everyone. This will make our community stronger, more empowered, and have that important dose of inspiration that is so critical to focus our family on the most important reasons why we do this: to build a world of technology freedom across the client and the cloud, underlined by a passionate community.
To achieve this will require awkward and uncomfortable change. It will require a discussion to happen to modify the charter and purpose of these boards. It will mean that some people on the current boards will not be the right people for the new charter.
I do though think this is important and responsible work for the Ubuntu community to be successful: if we don’t do this, I worry that the community will slowly degrade from lack of inspiration and empowerment, and our wider mission and opportunity will be harmed.
I am sure this post may offend some members of these boards, but it is not mean’t too. This is not a reflection of the current staffing, this is a reflection of the charter and purpose of these boards. Our current board members do excellent work with good and strong intentions, but within that current charter.
We need to change that charter though, staff appropriately, and build an inspirational network of leaders that sets everyone in this great community up for success.
This, I believe will transform Ubuntu into a new world of potential, a level of potential I have always passionately believed in.
I have kicked off a discussion on ubuntu-community-team where we can discuss this. Please share your thoughts and solutions there!